14 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions & Things to Do in Rochester, MN
Author Brad Lane enjoyed an extensive summer trip throughout Minnesota for PlanetWare.
Rochester is home to the world-renowned Mayo Clinic in southern Minnesota and is the state's third largest city behind Saint Paul and Minneapolis. It offers many of the same urban amenities as the Twin Cities but also provides a small-town feel in the form of city-wide celebrations and a welcoming community.
The city mixes natural spaces with a bustling downtown district and has a rich history still seen today. Popular things to do in Rochester include touring the historic Mayowood Mansion, admiring multicultural art at the Rochester Art Center, and exploring the environment at the Quarry Hill Nature Center.
Whether you are looking for a city experience or a respite in nature near the urban landscape, Rochester has a wide range of tourist attractions worth visiting and a sprawling network of bike trails leading right to them.
For more ideas on the best places to visit, read our list of the top things to do in Rochester, Minnesota.
1. History Center of Olmsted County & Mayowood Mansion
The History Center of Olmsted County is a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving the people, places, and stories that have made Olmsted County what it is today.
It provides opportunities for locals and tourists to learn about the community's progress and features rotating exhibits and a handful of preserved historic buildings. The center also hosts youth camps, lecture series, and the family-friendly "Movies Under the Stars" throughout the summer.
No history lesson on Rochester and the surrounding Olmsted County is complete without mentioning the Mayo Clinic, which was founded in Rochester and has earned a reputation as one of the best hospitals in the nation.
In conjunction with the Mayo Clinic, the History Center of Olmsted County helps provide access to the historic Mayowood Mansion — the former residence of the Mayo Clinic co-founder, Charles H. Mayo. This historic home provides a fantastic sightseeing experience while diving into the history of the hospital and its historic innovations.
Guided tours are the only way to see the preserved and restored grounds of Mayowood. Tours navigate through the luxurious interior of the 38-room mansion and expertly manicured gardens that surround the estate. During the holiday season, special Christmas Tours are available and generally sell out quickly.
History Center of Olmsted County
- Address: 1195 West Circle Drive SW, Rochester, Minnesota
- Address: 3720 Mayowood Drive SW, Rochester, Minnesota
2. Quarry Hill Nature Center
Quarry Hill Nature Center encompasses 329 acres on the east side of the city. This verdant landscape includes eight miles of hiking trails, a children's pond, a limestone fossil quarry, and historic sandstone caves to explore.
The Quarry Hill Nature Center doesn't just provide a backdrop to connect with these natural features, it also provides education about the environment. Within the actual Nature Center are informational exhibits and live animals. The center also offers naturalist programs.
The nature center rents out binoculars, discovery packs, and GPS units to find geocaches hidden on the property.
Quarry Hill Nature Center is open throughout the year. During the colder months, the hiking trails convert to snowshoe and cross-country ski routes and offer a fun place to visit in winter. The nature center has cross-country skis and snowshoes available to rent.
Address: 701 Silver Creek Rd NE, Rochester, Minnesota
3. Plummer House
The Plummer House was originally home to Dr. Stanley Plummer and his wife Daisy, and today is another tourist attraction of Rochester directly tied to the nearby Mayo Clinic. Dr. Plummer served as a founder and innovator of the Mayo Clinic and worked closely with the architects who began construction of his home in 1917.
A full century later, this historic home and estate has been meticulously preserved and is open for the public to get a glimpse of the past. Visitors to the Plummer House are free to explore the manicured grounds and gardens during sunlight hours, and guided tours of this Tudor mansion take place on Wednesdays throughout June, July, and August.
Address: 1091 Plummer Ln SW, Rochester, Minnesota
4. Douglas State Trail
The Douglas State Trail is a 12.5-mile pathway that connects Rochester with the northern city of Pine Island and takes users through the small town of Douglas, for which the trail is named. The Minnesota DNR operates the trail, which features both a paved trail and an adjacent natural surface trail reserved for horseback riders.
Except for snowmobiles in winter, the Douglas State Trail prohibits motorized vehicles. This allows for plenty of room for hikers, bikers, and inline skaters to explore the scenic environment.
Three trailheads access the state trail in the corresponding communities the route passes through. Restrooms and parking are available at all trailheads. The trail is not groomed for cross-country skiing in the winter.
The Douglas State Trail once served as a passageway for the Chicago Great Western Railway. Today, it's a great example of how Rail-to-Trail conversions greatly benefit the community, providing an accessible, even grade that everyone can explore.
Read More: Top-Rated Hiking Trails in Minnesota
5. Soldiers Field Veterans Memorial
The Soldiers Field Veterans Memorial stands as a tribute to all citizens who have stepped up to support their country and was constructed to honor all southeast Minnesotans who gave their life in battle.
This memorial features visual illustrations of every military combat from the Revolutionary to the Gulf War. Its centerpiece is the Wall of Remembrance, a large granite monolith inscribed with the names of more than 3,000 patriots who lost their life in battle.
Soldiers Field Veterans Memorial is open throughout the day but also draws appeal as a fun thing to do at night. The names and figures glow under lights into the evening, offering a certain ambience that adds to the remembrance.
Address: 300 7th St SW, Rochester, Minnesota
6. Silver Lake
North of downtown, Silver Lake City Park is a popular urban respite for citizens of Rochester and beyond, including a gaggle of Canadian geese that likes to hang out by the water. Consisting of more than 50 acres of water, Silver Lake is a man-made reservoir fed by the Zumbro River and includes a paved pathway where you can stroll along the shore or stand and cast a fishing line.
The park also provides boat rentals in the summer, enabling visitors to explore the waters in canoes, kayaks, or deluxe electric paddleboats. Whatever reason brings you to the shores of Silver Lake, whether it's a morning run, afternoon visit, or evening paddle, you and the geese will enjoy this natural environment. Popular fish to pull out of the water include crappie, sunfish, and largemouth bass.
Address: 840 7th St. NE, Rochester, Minnesota
7. Downtown Peace Plaza
The Peace Plaza is a great place to start looking for a shopping and dining experience in Rochester.
This pedestrian-friendly public space neighbors the Mayo Clinic and lends quick access to everything the downtown area has to offer. The plaza emanates the welcoming atmosphere found throughout Rochester with fashionable boutiques, first-class restaurants, and a great civic assembly space.
A sprawling network of skywalks and underground walkways stems from the Peace Plaza and spreads throughout the downtown area. This provides a climate-controlled way to travel while perusing the various shops and restaurants, which is especially nice in winter. The Peace Plaza can be rented out for truly memorable events among the scenic streets of downtown Rochester.
Address: 111 S Broadway, Rochester, Minnesota
8. Rochester Art Center
The Rochester Art Center contains a vast collection of multicultural, multimedia artworks situated along the banks of the Zumbro River. This family-favorite facility has connected visitors to the world around them since 1946 and has occupied its eye-catching riverside location since 2004. While it is impressive enough to view from the outside, the true cultural insights are found within.
The center makes it easy to engage with something new on each visit with an ever-rotating display of various media and artworks from emerging and nationally recognized artists. It also offers many community programs, such as kids' dance parties, adult Creative Development Series, and summer youth camps, giving everyone in Rochester a chance to discover themselves through art.
Address: 40 Civic Center Dr SE, Rochester, Minnesota
9. Thursdays on First & 3rd
While any day of the week is a good time to check out Rochester's thriving shopping, dining, and events scene, Thursdays during the summer are more lively than usual. That's because throughout the months of June, July, and August, the city of Rochester hosts the Thursdays on First & 3rd Summer Market and Music Festival.
Thursdays on First & 3rd have more than 100 craft and food vendors plus a soundtrack of live music. This community event is accurately described as a weekly celebration of fine weather and a welcoming community. Celebrations occur throughout the day, and every week is different thanks to the ever-changing lineup of live performances and special events.
Rochester Farmers Market is another awesome outdoor cultural event, occurring every Saturday throughout the year at the lovely Graham Park. This outdoor market purveys local produce rain or shine between May and October. An indoor market at Graham Park is open on Saturdays during the rest of the year. Vendors range from baked goods to fresh eggs and include specialty products like soaps, honey, and hot sauces.
10. Apache Mall
Apache Mall is one of the most popular places to visit for shopping in Rochester. It's near the center of town and accessible from U.S. 14. This massive retail space has over 90 stores in its directory, ranging from food court purveyors to high-end fashion and design. It's also home to a few major department stores, including JC Penny and Macy's.
Apache Mall has a fresh design and interior that evokes a new age of shopping. The mall also hosts several seasonal events and annual shopping sales. And, the entire facility is ablaze with holiday cheer near the last couple of months of the year.
Address: US Hwy. 52 and, US-14, Rochester, Minnesota
11. Bike Trails
The many different bike trails throughout Rochester offer endless avenues of enjoyment and a fuel-efficient and friendly way to see the city.
Bike trails connect users to natural spaces like Silver Lake and the Soldiers Field Veterans Memorial and cater to a choose-your-own-adventure kind of day. For instance, the scenic downtown waterfront route puts pedestrians in proximity to the Rochester Art Center and various shopping outlets.
While most of the trails are separate from the roadways, a few use bike lanes and sidewalks to arrive at different destinations. Along the way, expect to pass by commuters heading to work, wildlife that shares the urban landscape, and many other members of the community who enjoy the pace of muscle-powered transportation.
Most bike trails are not plowed in the winter, but that doesn't stop the community from making tracks throughout the colder seasons.
12. Mayo Civic Center
The Mayo Civic Center is one of the largest event centers in southern Minnesota, with more than 200,000 square feet of space to enjoy.
It hosts local and international musical acts, semi-pro and exhibition sporting events, as well as numerous conferences, business meetings, and conventions. The Mayo Civic Center has established itself as a vital part of the Rochester community through these crowd-drawing events.
A 2017 expansion added a second-floor grand ballroom and an architecturally pleasing façade on Civic Street. While there is a long list of shows and performances to choose from, a simple way to enjoy this venue is just sitting on its riverfront terrace that overlooks the scenic Zumbro River.
Address: 30 Civic Center Drive SE, Rochester, Minnesota
Rochesterfest is a week-long festival that takes place every June and brings the community together for a wide range of family-friendly activities. The festival has celebrated summer fun for more than 35 years and has events ranging from triathlons to treasure hunts, as well as live music, food vendors, and a Grand Parade.
Rochesterfest takes place for nine days in June, bookended by two weekends. A free midday trolley service operates during the festival to make it easy to attend without driving a car. Much of the central activity takes place in Soldiers Field Park, adjacent to the Soldiers Field Veterans Memorial.
Rochesterfest offers plenty of tourist attractions and is a great way to kick off the summer season. It also provides a full week of things to do at night, including concerts, sports events, and street celebrations.
14. Oxbow Park and Zollman Zoo
Oxbow Park & Zollman Zoo is a family-friendly, easy day trip from Rochester. It's less than fifteen miles northwest of the Mayo Clinic, still within Olmsted County. The county operates the parkland and zoo and offers free admission to see the animals and enjoy the expansive outdoor area.
Zollman Zoo mostly features animals native to Minnesota, including bison, wolves, and bald eagles. The zoo is open daily throughout the year. Take some time to enjoy the rest of the park, too, including amenities like hiking trails, picnic tables, and a campground catering to tents and RVs.
Best Time to Visit Rochester, MN - Historical Climate Averages
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